Fresno Pacific University's reasons for embracing and promoting diversity are derived from our faith commitments as Christians and working at a Christian university. In this document we present an operational definition of diversity, and discuss three particular bases for diversity at FPU: the Bible as our authoritative guide for life, the FPU Idea and core values, and current research regarding diversity in higher education.
An operational definition of diversity is, at least, twofold:
- diversity is an inherent expression and manifestation of God's creation that is inclusive of individuals and people groups based on race, sex, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status, abilities, nationality, religion, and various Christian faith traditions, who are to be embraced and valued as human beings created in the image of God;
- diversity is an attitude and perspective that attends to organizational culture in ways that challenges, cultivates, and transforms personal and institutional structures, policies, and practices towards human flourishing and shalom.
A Biblical Basis
In Genesis 1 and 2 we see that God is the creator of all humankind. People of all ethnicities and cultures share a common humanity through the image of God. God's covenant with Noah was made for all peoples (Gen. 9:l-17). When God calls Abraham to create from him a special people, it is for the blessing of all nations (Gen. 12: l-3). Throughout the Old Testament God calls his people to extend hospitality to strangers and to care for the needy and marginalized (e.g. Dt. 27:17-19).
Jesus in the Gospels
In the person and ministry of Jesus God's love and concern for all people become even more explicit. Throughout his ministry in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus crossed boundaries that divided people in his world. These include barriers of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, sex, religion and politics. He cared for and identified with sinners, social outcasts and the marginalized of that society (Mark 2:15-12). He interacted in love with women of different ethnicities (Mark 7:24-30) and women considered unclean and sinful (Mark 14:3-9). Jesus challenged the established tradition where it upheld law against human need.
In the Gospel of John we again see Jesus modeling this radical acceptance of people from all communities in the ancient world. Jesus proclaimed God's love and salvation to the whole world (John 1:29; 3:16). In his interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus chose not only to associate with her, but also to send her as his messenger to her people (John 4:3-42). In his final directions to his disciples and his wonderful prayer in John 14–17, Jesus begs for unity and love among his followers. It is through our unity that the world will know that God sent him and loves the world.
The Early Christians
The earliest Christians confronted questions of inclusion and exclusion soon after Jesus' ascension. These questions continued to arise and the Holy Spirit acted many times to break open the apostles' view of God's kingdom. At Pentecost, the gospel was preached to Jews from all over the world who heard it in their own languages (Acts 2), demonstrated that the message of Jesus as Messiah is meant for the whole world. As the church grew in size and understanding they began to comprehend God's truly radical inclusion of all peoples.
The apostle Paul continued this move to open the boundaries of the people of God to all peoples. One of his core convictions was that Gentiles be included as full members of the church but not required to become Jews in order to follow Christ. Unity does not equal sameness. Paul's vision of unity in Christ challenges ethnic, socioeconomic and sexual divisions (Gal. 3:28). Each member is different and has different functions, but we all belong and need each other in order to live as the body of Christ. This is true in and between local churches, and in the global church.
Socioeconomic differences are addressed frequently in the early literature of these followers of Jesus. James calls for repentance on the part of the rich who do not care for the poor. Paul argues that the Lord's Supper is not meant to be an event that separates people in terms of power and socioeconomic status (1 Cor. 11:17-34). The last book of the Bible presents us with a vision in Revelation 7:9 of a multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
Thus, from beginning to end, we find that God's word shows us that to be God's followers we must love all people. There are no grounds for discrimination against those who are different from us. We are to love not only those who are part of the community of faith, but even our enemies.
The Fresno Pacific Idea Statement
The FPU Idea Statement articulates a significant commitment to diversity. We look particularly at our tripartite calling to be a university that is Christian, a community of learners, and prophetic.
Fresno Pacific is a Christian University
As a Christian university we are Anabaptist, evangelical and ecumenical. In our Anabaptist commitment we affirm the importance of service, the priority of the Kingdom of God over other structures and values, the sacramental quality of the gathered Christian community and the Lordship of Christ over all of life. To be Anabaptist means to be diverse and inclusive, but with convictions that build upon a particular tradition.
We are also a member of a particular Anabaptist branch - the Mennonite Brethren - which brings evangelical aspects to our identity. In this we value the authority of the Bible, the new birth, service and mission, and personal spiritual development. In addition, and along with many contemporary evangelicals, the Idea states that we value the "practice of reconciliation and love in settings of violence, oppression and injustice." Both our Anabaptist and evangelical heritages call us to reach out to people of the diverse communities around us.
As an ecumenical university, FPU seeks to be centered upon Christ and His church. It also means that each party to ecumenical conversations and relationships both contributes to and receives from other branches of the Christian family who build on their own traditions and convictions.
These three aspects of our Christian identity means, then, that we hold to a holistic and integrative understanding of our faith. As the Idea states, "All authentic knowledge and experience are unified under God." Implicit in this inclusive notion is a rejection of any mono-cultural or ethnocentric approach to curriculum, programs or pedagogy. It also means that the University is committed to an ethic of service that unites theory with practice. Service implies that we as a Christian higher education community reach out to various racial/ethnic communities such as Hispanics, African Americans, and Southeast Asians, through intentional diversity initiatives in student recruitment, retention, and matriculation, who represent a major part of our region as well as staff, faculty, and administrative recruitment, hiring, retention, and promotion. Within our region, many students from diverse backgrounds come from families and communities in which they are the first to attend college. Hence, this suggests that FPU must become more of a safe place and space for diverse students to thrive. We must also be mindful of the ways in which various students' communities and values differ from the white cultural values and experiences so prominent within higher education. As an institutional and communal expression of the Kingdom of God, we are invited and challenged to reach across the boundaries of race, socioeconomics, ethnicity, sex, religious faith, personal sexual and marital differences, physical abilities and all other boundaries that divide people from each other.
Fresno Pacific University is a Community of Learners
As a university we do not simply resource a collection of individuals. Rather, FPU seeks to create and be a community of learners, thus valuing the interpersonal dimension of the learning process. It is clear that the university will encourage individuals, in all of their uniqueness, to commit themselves to God, to a life of discipleship, to participation in the life of a Christian church, and to service in both church and society. It is this commitment to God that will be at the center of community life in the university, although the university will in no manner discriminate against students who desire the educational experiences which we offer but are unable, for whatever reasons, to share in the faith commitments which are expected of faculty, staff, administration, and board. The Idea also affirms the inclusion of peoples from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. What clearly emerges from the Idea then, is a vision of a form of community that assumes a common center but is open and inclusive of many types of individuals.
Fresno Pacific University is Prophetic
The University understands its prophetic role in positive terms such as service, creativity, experimentation, innovation, leadership, and "developing a vision for wholeness, justice, and reconciliation." In addition, however, we call ourselves to prophetically reflect on and critique darkness, ignorance and injustice. We recognize that diversity critiques homogeneity and hegemony. The Idea states: "The university encourages informed reflection on personal, institutional and societal values which contribute to developing a vision for wholeness, justice and reconciliation." Prophetic diversity thus confronts privilege that comes at the expense of others. Prophetic witness to Christ's reconciling work in us and in the world calls us to include communities historically underrepresented and undervalued in higher education.
We thus contend that a prophetic witness should begin by acknowledging and addressing the fact that categories such as race, sex, socioeconomic status, and ability are socially constructed. In particular, the category of race has no biological or scientific validity. Furthermore, much racial and ethnic discrimination stems from legacies of European colonization and conquest in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In these cases indigenous people groups of, and enslaved Africans brought to the Americas and Caribbean were subjected to governmental and institutional policies and practices that perceived them to be less than human or savages who were not created in the image of God. These actions and attitudes, especially in the U.S., created trauma, violence and injustice that continue to the present day and have yet to be fully acknowledged, repaired, or transformed. Thus a prophetic witness must prioritize race matters and race-based outcomes so as to heal the legacy and current conditions that perpetuate the dehumanization and denial of access and equity of black and other nonwhite people groups while ascribing false superiority and privilege to white people groups.
In sum, the Idea calls us beyond the racism, sexism, and other forms of systemic oppression that remains endemic in our society and invites us instead to a common search for a better way.
Current Research on Diversity in Higher Education
Scholars have conducted numerous studies, particularly over the past 20 years, on the role and importance of diversity in and for higher education. These studies have sought to evaluate the effects of diversity experiences (including classroom curriculum, seminars, conferences and events that focus on aspects of diversity) and diversity interactions (interpersonal interactions across forms of difference) on various aspects of the university and learning experience. The results show that diversity experiences and interactions provide multiple benefits to students.
One consistent theme regards the ways in which diversity experiences and interactions enhance student learning outcomes, including active and critical thinking skills (Gurin et al. 2002, Hurtado 2007, Seifert et al. 2010, Smith 1997). Such experiences also promote in students an increased interest and motivation for intellectual engagement and learning (Seifert et al. 2010) and complex thinking (Bowman 2013, Pascarella et al. 2014). As such, diversity experiences and interactions have been shown to contribute to the overall learning objectives of the university.
In addition, however, diversity experiences benefit the ways in which students are able to positively engage socially diverse settings. For example studies indicate that diversity experiences increase students' social awareness, concern for the public good, and skills in intergroup relations (Hurtado 2007, Hurtado et al. 1999). Such awareness and skills are useful for shaping socially responsible leadership and intercultural effectiveness (Bowman 2010, 2013) and building discourse across cultural difference (Gutmann 2004). Such awareness and skill is particularly important for our current context. With the growing diversity in the U.S. (including in the California San Joaquin valley) it is imperative that universities shape citizens and leaders who can recognize and value differences in the context of democratic decision-making (Hurtado 2007).
Whereas studies indicate that all students benefit from diversity experiences, the benefits are shown to be particularly substantial for white males. One of the reasons for this is that such students "have often had less precollege diversity exposure than have Students of Color, so these experiences were probably more novel and therefore more likely to contribute to cognitive growth" (Goodman and Bowman 2014, 39; See also Bowman 2009). That is, while diversity experiences are shown to benefit all students regardless of their background, those who have had less pre-exposure to diverse communities experience particular benefits from such interaction.
How is it that diversity experiences form such an important and critical part of students' educational formation? Many of these studies, drawing on studies in psychology and behavioral cognition, have shown that "...the mechanism that fosters learning and development is dissonance—an experience or new piece of knowledge that is inconsistent with how one typically thinks about things" (Goodman and Bowman 2014, 37; See also Gurin et al. 2002). As students encounter people whose race, ethnicity, sex, religion, and ability are different from their own they will become uncertain about their own assumptions regarding others and their perspectives. That uncertainty, or dissonance, is then an important step towards the reconstruction of more complex assumptions that will eventually more accurately map the changing and diverse landscape in which they live (Seifert et al. 2010).
Moving from research on the advantages of student diversity, attention will now be given to the benefits of employee diversity. According to the University of California, San Francisco's Office of Human Resources, such benefits can include improved morale, a greater collaboration and teamwork, and the promotion of creativity in problem solving. Moreover, Scott E. Page (2007), professor of complex systems, political science, and economics, and author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, notes, when creative problem solving is needed, diversity is effective and efficacious over homogeneity in thought and ability. Through the use of models and frameworks, Page underscores the significance of diversity, under various conditions, to provide organizations and institutions with a new, pragmatic way of seeing and valuing difference beyond mere fear of compliance. In a similar vein, Ekaterina Walter (2014), a contributor to Forbes Magazine on-line edition, argues, "diversity is a mentality, not just strategic imperative." In short, current research on employee diversity challenges, and possibly debunks, attitudes and beliefs that contend that difference diminishes the quality of service or product that is being provided. Moreover, the research invites us to consider how to become an employer of choice as we grow in awareness of and service to our regional, diverse student and community needs as a Christian higher educational institution.
In sum, we have demonstrated that Fresno Pacific University's biblical commitment, the FPU Idea, and insights from research provide for it a strong foundation upon which to embrace, value, and promote diversity. As it moves forward in building a diverse learning community it will continue to prepare students to live and serve faithfully and effectively in our increasingly complex and pluralistic world.
1999 Rationale revised and updated by the 2015 University Diversity Committee.
Adopted by Fresno Pacific University Board of Trustees on October 24, 2015.